“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different,” explained J.K. Rowling.
Depression is not the same as sadness or emotional exhaustion. It is a chronic and profoundly debilitating disease. Depression has the power to steal your passion, your joy, and your very reasons for living life. It is, however, treatable. In some cases it can be beaten entirely.
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The trouble is, usually by the time we realize we have it, we have fallen in far too deep to seek help easily.
Don’t let that happen to you. Spot your depression quickly by catching on to these four early signs:
1. You are frequently plagued with migraines.
Did you know that 40% of people who suffer from migraines are also depressed? “Migraines and depression have common underpinnings in the brain, which can develop due to environmental factors, genetic causes, or a combination of both,” explained Dr. Richard B. Lipton. Dealing with both of these debilitating conditions sounds awful. However, there is a silver lining to their tendency to go hand-in-hand. The treatments often overlap, with anti-migraine medications alleviating depression and anti-depressants helping to treat migraines. Additionally, there are non-medicinal options such as relaxation therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, which are known to help with both conditions.
2. Your stomach is tied up in knots.
As a child, did you ever throw up when you were nervous, or develop stomach pains before a big test? This is not very different. Digestive issues are frequently tied to depression and anxiety. Our brain and our gut are very closely linked, connected to one another through the vagus nerve. For this reason, trouble in one often leads to a sense of disorder in the other. Anxiety and high levels of stress often go hand-in-hand with depression, and these can exacerbate digestive issues even further.
3. You sleep much more – or much less – than you used to.
Most of us are familiar with the stereotype of a depressed person who can not get out of bed. There is some truth to this. According to WebMD, 15% of people struggling with depression do tend to sleep excessively in an effort to cope with their symptoms. However, an inability to sleep is far more common. Some degree of insomnia affects a stunning 80% of people suffering from depression. Much like the physical symptoms described above, a lack of sleep in the context of depression can turn into a chicken-or-egg situation. “Insomnia may serve as a trigger for depression,” explained Michael L. Perlis, MD, “but it also appears to perpetuate depression.” Once again, a successful treatment for one of these disorders will likely go a long way towards improving the other.
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4. You’ve gained or lost a significant amount of weight without trying to.
“Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating,” said Gary Kennedy, MD. “This may be especially true for older people with depression, who may lose interest in cooking and don’t have the energy to prepare meals. For others, nausea may be a symptom of their depression and a cause for loss of appetite.” Other people may attempt to alleviate their symptoms through emotional eating. “Emotional eating is eating in response to emotional hunger,” explains Debra J. Johnston, RD. “When patients eat in response to their emotions, they are soothed by the food as it changes the chemical balance in the brain, produces a feeling of fullness that is more comfortable than an empty stomach, and improves mood through positive association with happier times.”
“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare,” wrote Ned Vizzini. Depression is a dark place, but luckily there are several ways out. If you believe you are suffering from depression, I urge you to seek help immediately. There are plenty of resources available, including talk therapy, group support, medication, and many more. Take the first step today. You’ll thank yourself later.